I’d like to write a little rant about being sick in the head, and my experience of it so far. It’s not fun, and it’s not all that funny.
I’m writing this for the anxious, who find themselves paralyzed in ways that no one understands; for the depressed, who shrink further and further into themselves, until sometimes they disappear; for those with disordered relationships with reality, who live in the same physical world, but with vastly different perceptions. I’m writing for the soul-hurt, marginalized, stigmatized sufferers, forced to travel alongside everyone else, but burdened with invisible illness.
I’m Ian Harvey, and I have anxiety.
More anxiety than is normal. Much more. I know that it doesn’t look like it, but what exactly should it look like? I know I don’t act like it (usually), but I’m excellent at hiding abnormal behaviors. Hell, we all are. We hide and we hide, we tell white lies to ourselves and others, all for the sake of passing as normal. When you see us act out or break down, that’s because we couldn’t pass any more.
Speaking for myself, I never mean for it to get to that point. Sure, I’ll let people know about my “anxiety problem,” but I’ll be damned if I’ll let my extreme discomfort show on my face when I meet people, or if I’ll allow myself to look panicked when I’m doing something that my brain wants me to freak out over. You may notice me looking glum, or angry, or like I could use a hug. Those are the days when life is so bad that I’d prefer to be in bed or maybe in a mental ward so I can finally get some fucking rest, and I swear to God that I feel like my face is neutral.
I could tell you. I could let it show on my face. I could cry at work, in my boss’s office, or in front of my students and clients, but what would that do, exactly? No one’s going to subsidize your paycheck because you had to force yourself to show up. They don’t let you work 5 hours instead of 8, even if that’s all you feel mentally capable of. You show up, you deal, and you only get to fully explore your suffering once you’re off the clock.
There’s no medal for acting normal with an abnormal brain, though I’d love a gold one with “Puts On a Good Front” emblazoned across the face. Typically, there’s only punishment when you fail to do so. Having a week where your depression’s so bad that you feel like your brain has the flu, and all you want is a few days in bed? Good luck paying rent without that week’s pay, and good luck keeping your job afterward (unless you can lie your way through). There is no rest for us, except when our brains allow it.
“We all get depressed sometimes”
A little story for those in the audience who might feel like I’m overstating my case. We all get depressed. We all get anxious. Yes, this is true. There was even a time when I thought my particular brand of anxiety was… relateable. Like people who “worry a lot” might be experiencing something like my psychic stew.
A woman I worked with, years ago, was telling me about her problems. Some obsessions were bogging her down and making her life harder, and I thought I had found a fellow sufferer. You see, I’ve got obsessive-compulsive disorder, a quirky little manifestation of anxiety that involves intrusive thoughts and rituals. I’m sure I’ll tell you more about it later.
I lent her a book that had been helpful to me, full of examples of people with obsessions and techniques for dealing with them. The next time I saw her, she said (and I quote), “I’ve got some problems, but those people are crazy!”
I was crestfallen. I was one of those people. I am one of those people. Also, she never returned my book.
First World Problems
I hate complaining when I’ve got things so good, and I hate feeling like I can’t complain. Like I don’t have the right. Like I’m being a whiny little shit, woe-is-meing while somewhere a family freezes and starves simultaneously. One of them is also, improbably, on fire.
I mean, how can I complain? I’m white, I’m a dude, I have a reliable safety net in the form of a supportive family, and I was born in the United States. How great do I have it? The only way I could have more privilege would be if my last name were Hilton, or Bush, or Yankovic.
I hate to say it, but that’s frustrating in and of itself. I should be happy. It’s incredible that I’m typing this on a decent computer, in a decent apartment paid for by my decent job, and still I complain. How wretched of me, how ungrateful. I feel guilt over it, and still I suffer.
Mental Illness and Self-Stigma
I’m writing this for myself, too, as you may have guessed. Every now and then I need to remind myself of the following:
If you deserved to feel this bad, it wouldn’t be a mental disorder, now would it?
Sure I’ve got everything going for me, but that doesn’t make the anxiety/depression any less painful, or any less disruptive. My suffering exists, despite my nice surroundings. I don’t deserve this pain, I haven’t earned it, and yet there it remains, like a cat turd in the corner that everyone pretends not to notice as they pass.
Being depressed and having “so much going for you” is still depression, and it can give the whole experience a certain annoying irony. My pain is valid, and I’m only making it worse by constantly castigating myself for being weak.
That phenomenon is something called self-stigma, by the way, where we take unfair cultural labels and apply them to ourselves. It’s stupid, and we don’t need the extra helping of shame. We’re hurting, and we deserve support, we deserve help, and we deserve some self-directed kindness.
One Last Thing
I’m going to feel better soon, by the way. Not fully better, but the anxiety and depression always ebb and flow. Just as surely as I sink into the depths of despair, I come back to a place where I feel pretty good. Some time has to pass, and it truly sucks while I’m laid low, but it’s as reliable as the tides. You might find that your life follows the same pattern, and it might help to have a bit of faith that, just like before, things get less sucky after a while.
Oh, and I’m gonna go see if my doc wants to put me on new meds. I hate not being able to do massage because of a fresh crop of social anxiety, and damn I’ve lost a lot of money because of it. If you’re depressed or anxious a lot, please go see a psychiatrist.
In the comments, let me know if you identify with what I’ve said here. What would you like to say to fellow sufferers?
Thanks for letting me rant.